“Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.”
This morning a couple (and their baby cow) in a horse-drawn carriage slowed as they passed the tree we were sitting under for a break in order to hand us an ice cold beer and a handful of candies. Already this morning a man had approached us as we were buying our daily Georgian bread in order to hand us an enormous hunk of watermelon. By noon, we would be given a bag of fresh tomatoes, two bottles of homemade wine, walnuts, frozen sprite and orange juice (which on a 45C day is absolutely wonderful) and more cantaloupe, watermelon, and little sweet fruits (which I found out later were figs) than we could handle. Oh, and a room in someone’s house to nap in which turned into a two night homestay at the neighbors with a fun-spirited grandpa and his wonderful teenage grandchildren. Welcome to Georgia, a country which in just three days has lived up to its name as “one of the most hospitable places on earth.”
Yesterday we picked a river spot early on in the day in order to spend the extremely hot afternoon in the water. Quickly after picking out our shaded paradise we were joined by a few families who had come for a picnic and they wasted no time inviting us to join. We all sat around the tarp eating the meat they had cooked over the fire (the typical Georgian picnic food) and the homemade cheese and bread that has become a staple in our diet here. We then spent the afternoon swimming, eating watermelon, and playing hilarious games of charades to communicate since none of us spoke a word of the same language. We bid them farewell once the sun had set and retreated into our tent for the night.
We nicknamed this guy “clown” because he was absolutely ludicrous and was definitely the most willing to do whatever motions it took to get us to understand what he was saying in Georgian. Since he couldn’t remember my name, he also decided to call me “Shakira” which Kevin and I found hilarious.
By noon the next day we had already been handed watermelon and candies by the time we were waved over by an older man outside his shop for a glass of cold water. The icy drink and shade were inexplicably amazing after cycling in the blaring 45C sun, and the man wasted no time giving us a cold orange juice as well. As he was cutting up watermelon and cantaloupe for us a few other passerby’s came and gave us homegrown items from their garden as well, everything from wine to walnuts to tomatoes, just because that’s how small communities work here. Overwhelmed by their hospitality, we spent the afternoon hanging out with the friendly man at his shop before he handed us over to his neighbor who took us into his house for an afternoon nap.
Here is the wonderful room we were offered for the afternoon.
The toilets here in the countryside are much simpler as there is no running water. They are basically cleaner versions of the Indian toilets!
Since the man didn’t speak a word of English (not many people outside the capital do) he handed us over to his neighbor, a grandpa who had his two (English speaking) grandchildren visiting from Tblisi, for the night. Before we changed houses though I was invited by yet another person on a horseback ride through the enormous fields of corn and grapes which cover the landscape. When we arrived to our new house they made us feel right away at home and cooked a wonderful meal of meat skewers over the fire for us (the same typical Georgian picnic food as the precious day). At breakfast they convinced us to stay one more day in order to go to the lake with them, and sure enough, we spent the whole day swimming at a nearby lake (where he took us out for a typical Georgian lunch of large meat dumplings) before exploring the woods in the evening. Unlike the “queen” like hospitality I sometimes received in India, this grandpa and his friendly, well behaved, and fun grandchildren simply wanted to make us part of the family. By the time we cooked dinner (fish on skewers) that night, it had already been our best day in Georgia yet.
Here is their house and barn. Though grandpa doesn’t keep any animals anymore, he use to have horses, sheep, and chickens.
Like everyone in the area, he also has acres of grapes which will be turned into wine (literally tons of it if we understood correctly) once September roles around.
Though we wanted to keep cycling in order to explore the mountains, we definitely could have spent a month in the village living the Georgian life. We especially appreciated the fourteen year old boy who had acted as our translator and tour guide as he was vital to our communication and was fun to talk to as he was educated and curious about other cultures just as we were about his. I have found that rural Georgia is an amazing mix between the East and West as it has incorporated my favorite aspects of both places. The people are educated, polite, and share the same cultural norms as I do, yet they have managed to keep their sense of community and the importance of family and friends which we have lost in the West. The people here seem to have enough money to happily sustain themselves, unlike many places I went in India, yet they don’t let money become their overarching goal in life like so many people where I come from. I love being in a place where the old men still gather on a bench in the evening to watch the world go by while their wives gossip together about the weeks news. A place where you can ride to the shop on your horse, and a place where your bread and cheese are either homemade or made by your neighbor. The thing that strikes me most though is how happy people seem, how proud they are to be Georgian, and how much they want to let us into their world. Rural Georgia so far has shown me that small villages still happily exist with many principles I have come to value along my journey, and I hope to keep encountering villages and hospitable people like those I have spent the last wonderful days with here along the rest of my journey.